Barbara Becker
3 min readMay 10, 2021


When you have breast cancer surgery on the day your first book is published

An author’s open letter to her friends

The start of a new journey

Dear friends,

Two very big things are happening in my life right now, and mostly I’ve only been talking about only one of them…

My book, HEARTWOOD: The Art of Living with the End in Mind, is coming out tomorrow! It took years and years to write this book on love, loss and meaning, and it’s hard to believe this day has finally arrived.

I’ve really hesitated to talk publicly about the second, though. I was brought up to be a private person, and that’s pretty much how I’ve lived my life. But writing Heartwood has encouraged me to be more open about it all — especially life’s challenges and how we make it through them. And telling only 1/2 of my story felt profoundly disingenuous. There is in our culture, a way in which the things that most need to be said are often the least likely to find expression.

So here goes…

By some surreal timing, I will be in surgery for a new diagnosis of breast cancer on the very same day as my book release. (It’s actually my second surgery in 2 weeks.)

I should say right here that my doctors are optimistic, and this period of time is hopefully about the worst of it I will ever see. I still hold that vision I wrote to my husband Dave in my acknowledgements, before I knew any of this: I know by now that there are no guarantees for longevity, but my greatest wish is living to a ripe old age with you, sitting in rocking chairs on that porch somewhere.

Mainly, I’ve been surprisingly good. I have a dear friend in Boston who was also diagnosed at the same time I was, and we’ve had the gift of walking through this together, day by day, with a level of intimacy and trust I am humbled by. And it turns out that there’s an underground sisterhood of survivors who will drop everything to get you through. (I can’t wait to join their ranks!) They’ll privately and courageously show you their scars and reconstruction and tell you what to expect from the bright blue dye the surgeon will use to find your lymph nodes. I’m so grateful for their hard-earned advice and wisdom.

I recently took a chance and talked a little about my diagnosis in this podcast interview. Afterward, the host, who turns out to be a survivor herself, sent me her 4 pages of interview notes with lines from Heartwood. It was something, she said, she’d save to share with anyone in need of encouragement someday. And now, I am somehow reading the book I wrote to help others — to help myself. This is admittedly strange.

This passage I wrote in Heartwood about the miscarriages I had decades earlier rings especially true to me now:

For the first time, I was willing to see that what was happening wasn’t so much a roadblock keeping me from life — it was my life. It wasn’t at all what I had wished for, but it was mine to work with, to make sense of.

I hope to stretch outside of my comfort zone and post more about this as time goes on. Mainly, I want you all to know how incredibly meaningful a community of support can be… and how we truly don’t know that until we let others in. This is the heart of vulnerability, I am learning. So many of us are dealing with major challenges right now, although we may not reveal it on social media. Let’s create a safe and brave space to support each other in whatever way we can.

Thank you so much, everyone! And please don’t worry if I don’t respond right away… it’s the anesthesia haze!